As veterans and world leaders gathered Friday to observe the 70th anniversary of D-Day, a bevy of personal stories have emerged to highlight some of the acts of heroism performed on that fateful day. One of the stories gaining notoriety (that also happens to arguably be one of the coolest) is that of Jim “Pee Wee” Martin, a paratrooper who marked the occasion yesterday by parachuting back into Normandy seven decades later.
The night before the D-Day invasion, 23-year-old Martin and the rest of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division, aka the Screaming Eagles, landed in enemy-controlled territory just behind Utah Beach, the westernmost of the Allied landing beaches. Along with the 82nd Airborne Division, 13,000 soldiers fought their way towards the beach in the hours before the first landings from the water began.
Now 93, Martin made a tandem jump Thursday, landing to applause and cheers, including a hearty “go, Pee Wee, go!” Moments after touching down he called the jump “wonderful” but said it didn’t exactly compare with doing it the first time around "because there wasn't anybody shooting at me today."
"Everybody (was) scared all the time, and if they tell you anything differently they are full of crap," Martin said. "But you just do what you had to do regardless of it. That's the difference."
In a press release issued by the U.S. Army earlier this week, Martin recalled being struck by how many ships he could see below as he prepared to jump. He also said the unit was certain the invasion’s success depended on them, which was why then-Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower made the decision to send them in ahead of the landings. His unit saw plenty more action during the rest of the war, including Operation Market Garden in Holland, the Battle of the Bulge, and the capture of the Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s Bavarian mountain resort.
Martin also spent some time in Normandy visiting an exhibit that contained one of his jackets and the helmet worn by a fellow member of his division who was next to Martin when he was shot.
“You know, people think you come back and you’re all emotional about it and I’m not that way about it. I enjoy the people but I am kind of humbled and embarrassed at the adulation because I don’t feel we did anything that we weren’t supposed to do or anything exceptional.”
Back stateside, the Tennessee State Museum opened a special exhibit on Friday honoring the 101st.
Martin fielded plenty of questions from reporters about his jump and told one that what made him go through with it was “a little bit of ego because I’m 93 and I can still do it.”
"And also I just want to show all the people that you don't have to sit and die just because you get old," he added. "Keep doing things."